South Koreans may visit North again ahead of first summit in decade

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean security officials may visit North Korea ahead of the first summit since 2007 if more high-level talks are necessary, a Seoul official said on Tuesday, with the South hoping the North will reaffirm its commitment to denuclearize.

After meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang in March, South Korea's national security adviser and spy chief said Kim was committed to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula and had expressed a willingness to meet U.S. President Donald Trump.

The April 27 meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim is scheduled for the border village of Panmunjom.

"Even though our special envoys confirmed his denuclearization will, it is entirely different if the two leaders confirm it directly among themselves and put that into text," Moon's chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, told reporters.

"We expect the summit will confirm the denuclearization will (of North Korea)".

Reclusive North Korea is pursuing nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions and has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

It defends the programs as a necessary deterrent against a possible U.S. invasion, prompting bellicose rhetoric from both sides. The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea but denies any invasion plans.

But tensions have eased in recent months, coinciding with North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics held in the South in February.

Seoul and Pyongyang are discussing the wording of a possible joint statement to be released at the summit, Im said.

He added it will likely focus on issues of denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula, and an improvement in relations not only between the two Koreas but also with other countries including the United States.

Any joint statement is not expected to include economic cooperation with the North, Im said.

North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

(Additional reporting by Hyunyoung Yi; Editing by Michael Perry)

04/17/2018 4:27

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